Chester House Estate ribbon cut marks opening of new attraction
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The £14.5m Chester House Estate project has taken 17 years to fully realise and with funding from the former Northamptonshire County Council, National Lottery players and now North Northants council tax payers.
Leader of North Northants Council Cllr Jason Smithers led a toast of thanks to Jack Pishhorn, Chester House Estate business manager, and his team of staff and volunteers.
Cllr Smithers said: "Put to one side the difficulties and look to the future. It will be ever-growing and the offering will evolve but it will always stick to its core values.
"I'd like to thank the whole team - all of the staff and the amazing volunteers. It shows there is a desire to put back into the community. If we can bottle that we're on to a winner.
"It's phenomenal. I think that the people will be very impressed with a free attraction that has the best of Northamptonshire and the many locally-produced goods it has to offer. There is a great learning side, so it is great for adults and children.
"We have got the premier venue in the Midlands and I'm sure that the public will come.
"We will keep a very close eye on the finances. We have a robust business plan. It's risk and reward - it has to work. We are the keepers of this and we need to make sure that we don't disappoint - and make sure it stands for another, if not 10,000 years, at least another 100. It's day one and we need to look to the future."
The attraction underwritten by residents in Northamptonshire has now been handed over to North Northants Council in a mutual agreement as from this weekend. Previously it was a jointly held asset between NNC and West Northants Council (WNC).
An NNC spokesperson said: "The Chester House Estate is an asset owned and operated solely by North Northants Council, having been developed by the county council prior to April 1, 2021, and completed jointly by NNC and WNC until the point of opening to the public this weekend.
“The Northamptonshire Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC) remains a countywide asset jointly funded by NNC and WNC but operated by NNC on behalf of both authorities.”
At the launch, given as a thank you to supporters of the project, guests were treated to a look around the new facilities including learning centre, ARC, artisan shopping courtyard, café, and events barn,
Local historian and councillor from nearby Irchester Jon Paul Carr said: "It's fabulous. There's something here for everyone of whatever interest.
"It's a great privilege to have this in Northamptonshire - there's 10,000 years of history. I think people will be amazed and it's been hidden up until now.
"It's a chance to discover the hidden history, and there will always be something new to see. The ARC gives everybody the chance to find out more and put it into context.
"It's an exciting day. The team and volunteers should be really proud of what hey have achieved for educational/historical point of view."
Sue Beardsmore, Heritage Lottery Fund Chair of England, Midlands & East, shared the task of cutting the ribbon.
She said: "Chester House Estate is a truly high quality heritage attraction. This project has been nothing if not ambitious. Huge congratulations to the whole team and supporters at Chester House. It is great to see such a mix of uses and a sense of place.
"A heartfelt thanks go to National Lottery players. We have been delighted to see the community involved especially the volunteers. We have got over the finishing line to get to another start line."
Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire James Saunders Watson added: "This is just fantastic. We have our own Vindolanda. There's a centre where people can see what we have here.
"Northamptonshire is a place to come, not just a place to pass through. It's a destination to go to. It has been a project that has had its peaks and troughs but we are here now and we can look forward to another 10,000 years."